Coach Yourself as a Trader

I was recently asked a question by one of the most respected trader development psychologists/ mentors that I know of in the business. Brett Steenbarger, working on a new project, asked if I could elaborate on what strategies and/ or courses of action I take to mentor/ coach myself as a trader. Brett’s excellent blog can be found at Traderfeed. He specifically asked:

What are the three things (i.e. courses of action, strategies, resources) that you’ve found most helpful in mentoring/coaching yourself as a trader?

And here is how I answered:

  • 1. Understand me. The most powerful tool I have found in life and in this specific case, the market, is what I, as a person, am capable of doing as a trader. I finally understand that personal characteristics that are engrained in my DNA will only allow me to trade successfully under specific circumstances. For example, I am much more consistent and profitable as a medium term and longer term trend trader than as a day trader (even more so on the long side). I don’t need to be everything, all the time as long as I continue to focus on the areas that bring me the greatest success. Understanding “me” has been my holy grail of understanding how to trade the market with some type of consistency and profitability.
  • 2. Learning to cut losses. It’s almost cliché but not many people can do it (in any aspect of life). I have learned to cut losses in my trading, my career, my hobby of competitive poker and everything else in life where the rule applies. Without this rule, there wouldn’t be a third rule.
  • 3. Study and work hard. Sounds so simple but we live in a very lazy society. It is extremely important to my success for me to continuously study the markets on a fundamental and technical level and learn from my successes and mistakes. If you think about it, we would all start at square one on every trade if we didn’t learn from past situations where we succeeded or failed. Applying the knowledge gained from past experiences allows me to properly analyze similar situations in the future with slightly greater odds of success (or at least I would like to think). Never stop learning is a phrase that I will never stop saying as it proves to be truer the older I get.

P.S. – Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few weeks as I have been in and out of town without much focus on the market. It’s better for me to be mostly in cash at this point in time due to the lack of opportunities crossing my screens. Regular posting will resume as soon as my schedule allows me to focus 110% on the market. I will look to post occasionally as long as I have something of value to add.

10 Steps to Profitable Trading

The secret to winning big in the market is not to be right all the time but to lose the least amount of money possible when you are wrong. As long as you win larger than you lose, you will be a profitable trader at the end of each year. Pride, ego and stubbornness prevents a trader from reaching the levels that very few can master.

To become a profitable trader, you must:

  • 1. Manage Risk: Learn to trade a manageable portion of you portfolio (I recommend to risk less than 2% of you overall portfolio equity on each trade). Always establish a risk/reward ratio before making a trade. Without the ratio, how do you know your risk?
  • 2. Understand Position Sizing: All traders must learn to know “how much” to trade on each position. Do not overtrade or you will runt he risk of ruin. Position sizing is rule number one of managing risk.
  • 3. Cut Losses: Do not allow losses to run wild. You must learn to cut losses and understand that losses are a part of the game, a large part of the game. Check you ego of winning at the door. We are here to make money, not go undefeated. Play sports if you want to keep score with a record rather than your bankroll.
  • 4. Learn when to Sell: You must learn when to sell. Selling is more important than buying as it ties directly to risk management. Use stops if you haven’t yet developed the discipline to get out at your predetermined stop or profit goal.
  • 5. Average up in Price: I will never hesitate to add shares in a stock that is moving higher (see Mastercard) but I always avoid averaging down. Remember, cut losses and never throw good money after bad because we know that’s a quick way to the poorhouse.
  • 6. Have Patience: It takes years to master trading as an advanced skill; even then, you are never done learning or adapting.
  • 7. Buy 52-week Highs, not 52-Week Lows: Don’t be afraid to buy stocks making new highs. The garbage sits at the bottom of the market along with poor earnings, weakness and further downward pressure. Buy strength and the momentum moving higher. Stocks are typically priced at the levels they trade for good reason. This applies to most premium items in life.
  • 8. Ignore the Talking Heads: Do not listen to the stories, gossip and rumors flying around on network television, stock forums or the major financial newspapers. It a surefire route to bad information and clueless advice. Do your own research; you’ll come out much further ahead. This applies to crappy blogs and internet sites as well.
  • 9. Understand Technical Analysis: Fundamental analysis is a solid part of my trading system but technical analysis brings in the dough. You must learn, understand and use technical analysis on a daily basis. Fundamental analysis tells me what and technical analysis tells me when, where and how.
  • 10. Control Emotions: Enough said – You must control your emotions or the game is over! Understand you!

Bernard M. Baruch

Wise quotes from Bernard M. Baruch:
I highly recommend the book (one of the best I ever read):
My Own Story – written by Bernard at the age of 87 in 1957.

Bernard Baruch was a stock market speculator who became a millionaire by age 30 in the early 1900’s and eventually a statesman and advisor to multiple Presidents during WWI and WWII.


Bernard Baruch was born in Camden, South Carolina to Simon and Belle Baruch. He was the second of four sons. His father Dr. Simon Baruch (1840-1921) was a German immigrant of Jewish ethnicity who came to the United States in 1855. He became a surgeon on the staff of Confederate general Robert E. Lee during the American Civil War and a pioneer in physical therapy. His mother’s Sephardic Jewish ancestors came to New York in the 1800s and were in the shipping business. In 1881 the family moved to New York City, and Bernard Baruch graduated from the City College of New York eight years later. He eventually became a broker and then a partner in the firm of A. Housman and Company. With his earnings and commissions he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange for $18,000 (~$458K in 2007 dollars). There he amassed a fortune before the age of thirty via speculation in the sugar market. In 1903 he had his own brokerage firm and had gained the reputation of “The Lone Wolf on Wall Street” because of his refusal to join any other financial house. By 1910, he had become one of Wall Street’s financial leaders.

  • A speculator is a man who observes the future, and acts before it occurs.
  • If a speculator is correct half of the time, he is hitting a good average. Even being right 3 or 4 times out of 10 should yield a person a fortune if he has the sense to cut his losses quickly on the ventures where he is wrong.
  • During my eighty-seven years I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think.
  • Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can’t retire his experience. He must use it. Experience achieves more with less energy and time.
  • Do not blame anybody for your mistakes and failures.
  • Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.
  • I made my money by selling too soon.
    I never lost money by turning a profit.
  • Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.
  • Never pay the slightest attention to what a company president ever says about his stock.
  • Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in private and public life have been the consequence of action without thought.

Please note that these simplified quotes don’t even scratch the surface of the contents of this book – it may even be an insult to list so few.

Stock Bias Test Results

I ran a post on Friday titled, Stock Bias Test, which has become one of the more popular pages on my site in only a few days. My site doesn’t generate a large number of comments per blog post, maybe 2 to 4 per post on average, but this topic got more than 30 people to respond (a huge success in my “comments world”). I guess I do a poor job in sparking conversation based on what I write.

Anyway, everyone seemed to like the exercise of analyzing the charts without a ticker symbol or frame of time.

I asked a few questions:

  • Which stock would you buy below based on the nameless & dateless charts? (listed 1,2,3,4)
  • How would you rank them in order of technical characteristics?
  • Would you avoid buying of any of the stocks below based on price and volume?
  • Would you short any of the stocks below?

Overall, many of you struck out and did not get the analysis right but I do have to say a that a few of you did a wonderful job.

The best response in the comments that I could find clearly comes from Alex who runs a blog on his google pages.
He nailed every chart (I wonder if he figured them out) as a few of you did.

#1 is the strongest buy. The last candle on #1 sets the high of the chart, therefore it’s moving into uncharted terrritory with no overhead sellers. Also, the last dip down to the 40-period line was on low and decreasing volume, thus few sellers there. Then it spiked off the 40-period MA with strong volume. Then it continued the uptrend for 5 candles.
#3 would be my second strongest buy for similar reasons, but I’d like to see what the next few candles do.
#2 & #4 I would leave alone because of the heavy selling volume on the last dips. But I wouldn’t short them because they are still above the 40-day MA.

I had to hide Aurelien’s answers for chart #3 as he guessed it: AAPL.

Steven Mac may have summed up the approach to the analysis the best by saying:

While the exercise is based upon price & volume alone or techincal aspects, for the record I wouldn’t move into a position unless I can see at least:

1) Risk-to-Reward.
2) RS Strength
3) Industry Group/Sister Stock Information
4) Fundamentals on Ownership
5) Overall Market Direction Factor

Overall – it was a great exercise and a wonderful success. I plan to do more of these in the future (possibly bi-weekly if everyone stays interested).

The original snapshots of the charts I uploaded on Friday are highlighted in blue (on the charts below). As you can see, #1 (BIDU) and #3 (AAPL) were super successful and #2 (MS) and #4 (BSC) broke down.

Proper risk/ reward setups and sell rules would have saved you from losing large amounts of money in MS and BSC so don’t worry if you got them wrong. Worry if you got it wrong and then avoided selling a clear loser.

Stock Bias Test

I was inspired to write this educational piece after listening to the audio interview between Tim Bourquin of Trader Interviews and Brian Shannon of, also the author of Technical Analysis Using Multiple Timeframes. Brian’s book starts shipping on June 7, 2008, a book I had the pleasure to read as an advance copy; I definitely recommend his work. I will be posting a complete review of the book within the next week.

  • Which stock would you buy below based on the nameless & dateless charts? (listed 1,2,3,4)
  • How would you rank them in order of technical characteristics?
  • Would you avoid buying of any of the stocks below based on price and volume?
  • Would you short any of the stocks below?

Tim mentioned that a couple traders he recently spoke with have written code within their charting software that allows them to strip the company name and ticker symbol off of the charts. I find this absolutely amazing – a tool I would pay for in a heart beat.

These traders do this to avoid the human biases of the companies they are trading. Humans tend to rationalize their thoughts and decisions based on what has happened, what is currently happening and what they think will happen.

For example (one provided in the interview that I agree with): Many traders are starting to talk about a bubble or possible top in oil. Now, I don’t know if oil is topping but I have been avoiding some oil and energy stocks in my own research based on the indicators of my screens. I truly can’t tell you if this is based on the biases of what I have been reading and hearing or the based on my screens dropping clues.

I typically avoid old time blue chip stocks such as GM, IBM and MSFT but maybe I wouldn’t do this if they were making a move and I didn’t know what company I was trading because the ticker symbol was stripped. I did analyze IBM earlier this year but I avoided the write-up for as long as possible because it has underperformed for much of my adult life.

Anyway, take a look at the stock charts below and let us all know (in the comments) which ones you would buy, sell or do nothing. I will post up the full charts with ticker symbols and dates in a couple of days. Some of you may be very surprised to see what stocks they really are and may question your own conclusions once the company names are revealed.

Good luck – let’s see what everyone comes up with (leave them in the comments section). Click through to see charts 2 through 4.

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